Cross-posted from I Cite:
Looking at the neoliberal approach to the state suggests that viewing the state as both a consumer of services and provider of consumer services alerts us to changes in the understanding of citizenship. Since the state is not conceived in terms of the active sovereignty of the people, a vehicle for people's self-governance, or a forum for the deliberation over issues and carrying out of decisions in the interest of the common, it becomes but one market actor among others. The attack on big government (carried out most effectively by the Clinton administration) combined with years of emphasis on deregulation, repositions the state ideologically: now it is an unwieldy corporation, hardly the lean, efficient, adaptive machine necessary for the new economy. Not only is not an ideal site for the investment of affective meaning and identification, but it is an efficient locus for the realization of distributive goals.
What can it do? Or, what it can it do exclusively? Or, perhaps, most efficiently? Or, what is left for it to do? In the wake of privatization of nearly all governmental services, what has been left is security. On the one hand, I have in mind homeland security and the public-private partnerships associated with police and miltary protections, protections both supplied and purchased by the government. On the other, I have in mind the legal protections secured via rights. There is still some level of general expectation that people's rights will be protected. This expectation is of course uneven--some are more likely to have it than others and some are more likely to be able to act on it than others--but for the most part there is an expectation that murderers and rapists are not allowed to murder and rape with impunity; it is still considered that they violate people's basic rights to security and that when they are not caught or punished this is a harm or a lack on the part of the police/government.
Further, expectations that the state secure food, drugs, and commodities remain. These expectations persist both on the side of holders of copyrights and patents and on the side of consumers: the recalling of unsafe products continues as a regular practice.
The narrowing of the role of the state to one of security (and, this narrowing was of course already forseen by Hobbes although not widely shared among the American founders) corresponds to a narrow role of the citizen/subject: victim. This is one of the few locations from which citizens might speak. Much of identity politics in the US fought to secure rights claims, but rights that often require(d) the assumption of the position of the victim if they are to be claimed. Victims rights have been one of the primary political movements over the past 30 years behind the increased cruelty and brutalization of the criminal justice system: families of victims seem to require ever harsher penalties if they are to achieve 'closer.'
Since 9/11 the US is a country of victims, a country of the aggrieved. Any political speech seems to require a prior positioning as or acceptance of the role of victim. One must self-victimize in advance in order to enter the political arena. This practice is familiar on the multicultural left--I'm pretty familiar with it from feminist politics (where the critique of victim feminism is already 20 years old). Some Christian evangelicals speak from this position: the persecuted Christian who takes a nail for Christ with her every resistance to the sins of the world. There are innumerable foundations and organizations around health and disease, struggle on behalf of victims of cancer, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, etc. We should also link presumption of the victim to this the movements around mass torts: we expect large lawsuits around big tobacco, bad guys polluters, corporations insufficiently attentive to small swallowable parts. It's almost as if those who aren't victims have no standing.
Our current condition, then, is one where if we don't speak as victims we don't have standing, where the political arena is structured in terms of victims rights and security to such an extent that if we aren't victims, well, what do we have to complain about, and if we are then our political trajectory--in favor of security and reparations--is determined in advance. Precisely because the security-victim matrix is so tightly structured, the left is, well, either left out of the current matrix or doomed to reinforce it.
What happens when people try to escape from this political setting? I think that my book Publicity's Secret can be of a little help here insofar as it theorizes the conspiracy and celebrity modes of subjectivization. Because I emphasize communicative capitalism as a state-economic formation in that book, I don't separate out neoliberalism from the overall ideological context. What I would now say is that the conspiracy theorist and the celebrity are what happens to the citizen when she tries to engage politically without speaking from the position of the victim. We can think about these options, then, almost as criticisms in advance, the ways that the dominant culture works to rein in political action by rendering it suspect, illegitimate and, conversely, the ways that political resistance gets pushed/polarized into paranoid or pseudo-transgressive practices.
These modes of subjectivization are what communicative capitalism provide. In other words, they are compensations for a diminished political world 'on the ground,' for the displacement of action to the safe space of circulation without effect.